In the previous post I gave a little bit of a teaser on what this strange sounding punishment is. 1) It's punishment. 2) It's obviously a pretty effective punishment if I left that as the last post before another week of the army. Most importantly, it's the punishment that Lebanon War battle-tested soldiers choose to punish us greenhorns with.
I guess it's not quite as exciting as telling you that they put us on wooden boards and pull our limbs apart and put candles under our feet and brush our skin with iron rakes. It's nothing quite as Inquisition or glamorous as that.
Rather, as far as torture goes, the simplest device is the most successful. In this case, that would be pushups. Literally, for those who don't know Hebrew, matzav shtayim (מצב שתיים) means "position two." Position two would be the first position, ironically, of the pushup - elbows locked, arms straight, holding your weight fully off the ground. It's not easy.
Matsav echad (מצב אחד), however, is what really hurts. That's the second position of a pushup - chest an inch off the ground, arms at 90-degree angles, your face eating concrete.
So, the first day we got inducted into the army we left BAKUM at about 5pm or so and took a bus for a two-hour ride up north to the army base Michve Alon. After getting settled, running around, learning our formations, and so forth, we finally got what's called TASH (ת''ש). TASH is Tnai Sheruit, or "conditions of service," which is the name for the free time you have at night to go to bed. I want to write about this later, but for now I'll just say that we had 1 hour to prepare for bed on the first night.
At the end of TASH you have to meet back out in the yard in front of the dorm in sleep clothes. For me, that's a t-shirt, mesh basketball shorts, and my $2 Wal-Mart sandals that are so thin that I can feel dust bunnies underneath them. So, stupidly, I go out to formation dressed like a true greenhorn. I've now learned to not take the whole "free time" promise seriously.
We lined up in position, but true to form, some joker made a joke and we were subsequently punished with matsav shtayim.
"You know what matzav shtayim is?," asked the commander.
"Yes, Commander!!!," we shouted in unison.
"SO???????," he barked, as if we believed he was going to have us do pushups on the first day in our pajamas. We all just looked around, seeing who was going to be the gullible one and actually get on the ground first. He's joking, right?
He wasn't joking. 2 AM, day one, 50 guys slowly fall to the ground.
I looked down at the ground and for the first time and realized we were on that pavement that is more gravel than anything else. It was pitch black, but I could make out rocks sticking out of the pavement, pebbles evenly scattered. As soon as my feet made contact with the ground and my arms took the full weight of my 220-pound frame, the ripping pain of sharp gravel tore through my computer-conditioned hands. I like to think of myself as something of a man, and I did some pushups before my draft, but I was in no way ready to do pushups on this surface.
Take a look at that picture. It was hard to get the picture to come out, hard to capture the color, but can you see how red the bottom of my palms are? I took that over 24 hours after the pushups I'm describing to you now. Think about that.
"Matsav shtayim!!," he shouts.
"Matsav shtayim, Commander!," we shout back as we hold ourselves up. I look around and see half the group shifting their butts either way up in the air or way down against the ground, just trying their best to at least keep their arms straight. I hold in pushup form with everything I've got. Some guys fall to the ground, looking at their hands with deep black imprints of rocks nearly piercing the skin.
"What, is this hard for you?! Aren't you a soldier now?! Pathetic. MATSAV ECHAD!"
"Matsav echad, Commander!," we meekly pant as we lower ourselves to an inch off the ground. Hold it, hold it...
I look around and see 90% of the group with their knees touching the ground. My arms are burning, chest shaking, and my back feels like an acid-metal rod has been surgically inserted into my spine. But I persist, believing my determination will get me through the physical challenges.
10 seconds pass. 15 seconds.
"What are you, boobs?!!! GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP!!!!!!!"
20 seconds pass. 25 seconds.
"WHAT IS THIS????!!!! YOU THINK THIS IS SCHOOL?!!! IS THIS A PLAYGROUND???!!!!!! YOU'RE SOLDIERS, GET UP GET UP GET UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Arms shaking, head down against the gravel, hands burning, back caving in...
and then my knees slam down, pavement crushing against the joints, sending waves of pain through my legs down to my feet and up my hips.
Day one. Broken.
"MATSAV SHTAYIM!!!!!!! UP UP UP UP UP UP!!!!!!! WHAT ARE YOU, BOOBS?!??!?!?!"